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Chicken/ Finger Food/ Spice

Spicy Chicken Tenders

June 9, 2019 (Last Updated: June 10, 2020) by Chris Collins

These Spicy Chicken Tenders are ridiculously delicious! Chicken strips marinated in buttermilk and hot sauce, then deep fried for extra crispiness. Need I say more?

I mean we could totally just leave it at that, but I guess you’re gonna need some sort of recipe right? Well, without further ado, let’s get straight into it…

overhead shot of chicken tenders resting on a wire rack, focus on one tender surrounded by the rest.

Chicken Tenders

These are perfect as a side dish, or even as just finger food with a dip. Heck – do we really need an excuse to whip up a batch of crispy tenders?!

Ideally you want actual chicken tenders. They are, as the name suggests, ever so slightly more tender than the breast itself. If you can’t get your hands on chicken tenders, you can dice up chicken breast into strips which works just as well!

The first step to getting juicy tenders is marinating them. Follow me…

closeup of chicken tender with a few more in the background

Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

Like all good fried chicken recipes, these bad boys start with a buttermilk marinade. Buttermilk is great for a few reasons. Firstly, it allows you to easily coat the chicken with flour (unlike eggs which are far more likely to go clumpy). Secondly, it’s slightly acidic, meaning it penetrates and tenderises the chicken as it marinates. Because who doesn’t want tender chicken tenders?

I can’t find buttermilk, what can I substitute?

One sub you could use is yogurt (for acidity) thinned out with a little milk (to help texture for dredging). You could also add acidity to milk (white vinegar, lemon juice) and let it rest, then mix and use as a marinade.

Spicy Chicken Marinade

The marinade itself is really simple. You just need buttermilk, hot sauce, salt and white pepper.

How long to marinate for?

Ideally you’re looking for a minimum of 2 hours, with best results leaving over night. As long as you have time for though, even 30mins is better than no marinating!

Process shots: add buttermilk, hot sauce, salt & pepper to a bowl (photo 1), stir then add tenders (photo 2), combine then cover and marinate (photo 3).

How to make a spicy chicken marinade - 3 step by step photos

Spicy Chicken Breading

Okay, so we’ve got a nice kick of spice from the hot sauce in the marinade, now let’s talk flour breading. The main heat here comes from cayenne pepper. Alongside onion & garlic powder and paprika, these tenders result in a gorgeous burst of flavour.

Baking Powder

One of the key ingredients in the dredging mix is baking powder. When this hits the oil it causes a reaction, which in turn causes lots of tiny bubbles. This is what gives you that crispy, airy batter!

Top Tip – Ensure you thoroughly dredge the tenders through the flour. This step is crucial to create those gorgeous crispy/flaky parts of the batter.

Process shots: Add flour and spices to a tray or bowl (photo 1), combine until fully blended (photo 2), add one chicken strip at a time (photo 3), fully coat, ensuring you cover every spec of the chicken (photo 4), rest on a wire rack until ready to deep fry (photo 5).

How to make crispy chicken tenders - 5 step by step photos

Deep Fried Chicken Tenders

Unfortunately/fortunately (which ever way you look at it) to get the true KFC style crispy chicken, it’s deep frying all the way.

Hey, nobody said these were healthy 😂

Best Oil to use?

You want an oil that a) has a neutral flavour and b) has a high smoking point. Vegetable and sunflower work great. Olive oil is NOT suitable.

What temp to fry at?

You want to get the oil to around 350F/175C. The temp is likely to drop when the chicken hits the oil, and that’s fine, just maintain the heat.

Top Tip – I highly recommend using a kitchen thermometer, just for accuracy. If you don’t have access to one, you can drop a small bit of batter in the oil. If it slowly rises to the top and sizzles you’ll be good to go.

stone slab with chicken strips, chips and dip on top. Holding one chicken strip above the slab with focus on that.

Serving Spicy Chicken Tenders

I usually serve these as finger food with a dip. My favourites are Blue Cheese Dip, BBQ Mayo and Garlic and Herb Dip – but do check out all my Delicious Dips for more inspo!

You could also make a meal out for them and serve them with Fries or Wedges!

If you’re looking for more Chicken Tenders recipes be sure to check out my Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders and Bacon Wrapped Chicken Tenders!

For more spicy chicken recipes head over to my Spicy Chicken Pasta and Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese!

Okay, let’s tuck into the full recipe for these Spicy Chicken Tenders recipe shall we!?

dunking a chicken tender into sriracha mayo in a white bowl.

How to make Spicy Chicken Tenders (Full Recipe & Video)

closeup of chicken tender with a few more in the background

Spicy Fried Chicken Tenders

These Spicy Chicken Tenders are ridiculously delicious! Chicken strips marinated in buttermilk and hot sauce, then deep fried for extra crispiness. Need I say more?!
4.73 from 11 votes
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Servings (click & slide): 16 tenders
Course: Appetizer / Finger Food
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Marinating Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Calories per serving: 130kcal
Cost per serving: £2.50 / $3


  • Suitably Sized Pot (for deep frying)
  • Shallow bowl or Curved Tray (for dredging)
  • Large Mixing Bowl & Cling Film (for marinating)
  • Kitchen Thermometer
  • Cooling Wrap & Paper Towels
  • Tongs

Ingredients (check list):

  • 1.3lb / 600g Chicken Tenders (see notes)
  • 3-4 cups / 750ml - 1 litre Vegetable Oil (see notes)


  • 1 cup / 250ml Buttermilk (see notes)
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml Hot Sauce (I use Frank's)
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp White Pepper

Dry Mix

  • 1 3/4 cups / 250g Plain Flour
  • 1 tbsp Cayenne Pepper (see notes)
  • 2 tsp Paprika
  • 1 tsp EACH: Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Baking Powder, Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper


  • Combine chicken with the buttermilk, hot sauce, salt and white pepper. Cover and place in the fridge for as long as you have time for. Preferably overnight, absolute minimum 2 hours.
  • Meanwhile, in a shallow dish or curved tray combine flour, cayenne pepper, baking powder, paprika, onion & garlic powder, black pepper and salt. One by one, coat your chicken strips in the dry mix, making sure you cover every spec of chicken. Press the mix right into the chicken so it goes nice and flaky. Place on a wire rack and repeat.
  • Heat up your oil to around 350F/175C. To test without a thermometer, drop a tiny piece of batter in the oil, if it very slowly rises to the top, you should be good to go. A medium heat for around 8-10 minutes should obtain this. The temp will slightly drop when the chicken hits, which is fine, just maintain that heat (no lower than 320F/160C).
  • Working in batches of 3-4, carefully place your strips into the oil. Separate them with tongs if they instantly stick together, then leave for a few mins until they start turning golden. Flip over and leave for another couple of minutes until deep golden and visibly crispy. If your oil is too hot simply pour in more oil/turn down the heat. If you're not confident with deep frying then test one strip first.
  • Place on a wire rack with a tray or paper towel underneath. Enjoy with a dip or as a side!

Quick 1 min demo!


a) Chicken Tenders - If you can get chicken tenders that's preferable, if not you can slice chicken breast into strips which will work just as well.
b) Buttermilk - Buttermilk has great consistency (not too thin, not too thick) and the slight acidity also tenderises the chicken. It is preferable, but if you can't get your hands on it you could sub 3/4 cup plain unsweetened yogurt (for acidity) mixed with 1/4 cup milk to thin out (for texture). Another good buttermilk sub is 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tbsp acid (white vinegar or lemon juice). Mix together and let it sit for 10mins before mixing in the chicken. This is a slightly thinner solution than buttermilk, so if you’re doing this just make sure you give it a thorough dredge through the flour.
c) Oil - You want to use an oil with a high smoking point with a neutral flavour to it, like vegetable or sunflower oil. Do not use olive oil.
d) Spice Level - *As of 26/09/22 the cayenne has been upped to 1 tbsp (1.5 tsp previously)*. The 1/4 cup hot sauce and 1 tbsp cayenne pepper give these tenders a nice kick of spice. Nothing too drastic, but definitely apparent. As everyone's spice preference is different, if you're concerned then use 1/2 tbsp of cayenne pepper in the mix, test with one tender, and adjust accordingly if you want more. This way you won't spoil the whole batch with them being too spicy. Much easier to add spice than remove it.
e) When is the Chicken Cooked? - Ensure the chicken is white all the way through the centre, piping hot, with the juices running clear. The safe internal temp of chicken is 165f/75c.
f) Calories - It's really tricky to calculate deep fried recipes, but the below stats are based on the following: 1/2 cup buttermilk stuck on, 3/4 cup flour stuck and 1.5 tsp oil absorbed during cooking. Calories per tender.

Your Private Notes:


Nutrition Facts
Spicy Fried Chicken Tenders
Amount Per Serving
Calories 130 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 7.98g12%
Saturated Fat 5.824g29%
Trans Fat 0.005g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.331g
Monounsaturated Fat 1.066g
Cholesterol 27mg9%
Sodium 128mg5%
Potassium 154mg4%
Carbohydrates 5.28g2%
Fiber 0.3g1%
Sugar 0.45g1%
Protein 9.24g18%
Vitamin A 500IU10%
Vitamin C 0.8mg1%
Calcium 10mg1%
Iron 0.5mg3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition is based on the absence of salt unless stated as a measurement in the ingredients. Cost is worked out based on ingredients bought from UK supermarkets, then divided by the number of servings. In both instances these values are just for guidance. Please check out my FAQ Page for more info.
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Recipe Rating


  • Reply
    November 7, 2022 at 12:03 am

    5 stars
    These were awesome. If you’re going to make this recipe…and you have teenagers…make more than you think you need. My family loved them. Side note…I did not have buttermilk…or any of the potential substitutes listed on hand. I mixed about 1/3 cup of sour cream in with milk. Worked great.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      November 7, 2022 at 11:35 am

      Great to hear these went down with you and the family! 🙂 C.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2022 at 2:44 am

    5 stars
    Very yum. I like it very hot and my wife not so much so we did the half cayenne, wasn’t hot at all. So trying again following the recipe exactly. We will wait and see how hot it is this time.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      May 31, 2022 at 8:07 pm

      Glad to hear they went down well, Adrian! Feel free to up the cayenne to your taste! Thanks so much for popping back and leaving a review 🙂 C.

  • Reply
    Lee Dodd
    February 16, 2022 at 1:41 am

    2 stars
    Ho hum, spicy, Not. Won’t make again

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      February 16, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      Sorry to hear the spice level wasn’t to your preference! You can always up the amount of cayenne next time 🙂

  • Reply
    Wanda Clark
    July 30, 2021 at 11:58 pm

    I have followed the directions exactly several times but the breading keeps falling off. Any suggestions?

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      July 31, 2021 at 6:03 pm

      Few things might help:

      – Make sure the chicken is close to room temp before it hits the oil. Cold meat seizes up and releases a lot of moisture, which might be pushing the breading off.
      – Allow the chicken to rest a little before hitting the oil, just to help the batter and chicken glue together.
      – Don’t move the chicken too much in the first instance when it’s in the oil. Again, just to give time for the batter to glue to the chicken.
      – Really ensure you bread the chicken as well as you can. Get in every crack and crevice of the tenders and build up a nice thick, flaky crust. This step is crucial.
      – Check oil temp is on point. Too low and the batter goes soggy and falls off. Too high and it’ll burn and flake off.

      Hope these tips help! C. x

      • Reply
        September 25, 2023 at 12:01 am

        What about problems keeping the breading on while coating? Any helpful tips?

        • Reply
          Chris Collins
          September 28, 2023 at 10:23 am

          Just make sure you really squeeze the flour into the chicken. Really work it in, using the marinade to glue it to the chicken. C.

  • Reply
    July 11, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    5 stars
    This is honestly one of my family’s favorite recipes! Whenever I have people come to town, they ask me to make this! Although I make them into boneless wings & everyone sauces them to their liking. It’s even approved by our 4 year old!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      July 12, 2021 at 10:18 am

      This is awesome to hear, Devan! Glad to hear the recipe goes down well, especially with the young’n! Thanks so much for the review 🙂

  • Reply
    Chalon Stewart
    July 5, 2021 at 11:04 pm

    Hi! Would you recommend homemade buttermilk over the yougurt solution? Soaking chicken tonight to make tomorrow. Let me know!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      July 6, 2021 at 8:07 pm

      Hi Chalon, it won’t make a huge difference which you choose.

  • Reply
    Peri Puckett
    August 18, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    Marinating the chicken now. Can’t wait!
    Do you think using smoked paprika would be a mistake / too strong? Easy enough to run to the store for standard sweet paprika, just wondered about your thoughts.
    Thanks so much for sharing this recipe , Chris : )

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      August 18, 2020 at 9:42 pm

      Hey Peri! It will be a noticeable difference, but not one I imagine will ruin the recipe, especially if you know you like smoked paprika! You’ll know for next time anyway 🙂 Hope you love the recipe!

  • Reply
    June 23, 2020 at 12:43 am

    5 stars
    These are the BEST Spicy Chicken Tenders we ever ate. I did marinate the chicken over night and it was off the charts good. I’ve cooked for a long time and like to try different dishes different ways. I will look NO further. This is the only recipe for Chicken Tenders I’ll ever need. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      June 23, 2020 at 10:11 am

      Sandi! That’s so awesome to hear! Glad they went down well 🙂

  • Reply
    angelina ramsey
    June 7, 2020 at 1:19 am

    is there a substitute for the buttermilk?

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      June 7, 2020 at 2:15 pm

      I’ve never subbed for this recipe before but your best bet is 3/4 cup plain unsweetened yogurt mixed with 1/4 cup milk to thin out.

      Another good buttermilk sub is 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tbsp acid (white vinegar or lemon juice). Mix together and let it sit for 10mins before mixing in the chicken. This is a slightly thinner solution than buttermilk, so if you’re doing this just make sure you give it a thorough dredge through the flour.

      Chris 🙂

  • Reply
    May 28, 2020 at 12:17 am

    5 stars
    It was so good. Definitely recommend 🙂

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      May 28, 2020 at 9:41 am

      Thanks, Molly! Glad you enjoyed 🙂

  • Reply
    May 23, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    What about an air fryer

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      May 23, 2020 at 5:47 pm

      Hi Margaret! Unfortunately I haven’t tested this recipe in the air fryer, so can’t offer any advice on this. Sorry!

    • Reply
      June 12, 2020 at 5:09 pm

      I’ve made this recipe several times now and it’s one of my favorites. I tried it today in the air fryer, and would not recommend. They’re fine, but no matter how much cooking spray you put on, the breading gets too gummy. Deep fried is the way to go for these!

      • Reply
        Chris Collins
        June 12, 2020 at 5:17 pm

        Thanks so much for popping back and sharing this Ashley!

  • Reply
    May 2, 2020 at 5:36 am

    5 stars
    Your food makes me hungry!!!! I will be making these while in quarantine life!!!!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      May 2, 2020 at 10:22 am

      Haha thanks Heather! Hope you love them!! 🙂

  • Reply
    April 28, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    I’m trying this recipe tonight but changing a few things where the salt is concerned. I must question the nutritional facts as the sodium content per serving(not sure what a serving is) is 128 mg. Upon adding up all sodium in this recipe the total amount is 6,130 mg. Where the 128 mg comes from I’m not sure but it’s definitely incorrect.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      April 29, 2020 at 10:00 am

      Hi Will! Thanks for spotting that. The serving size is based on 16 tenders, shared between 4 people. Hope you love the recipe 🙂

  • Reply
    June 10, 2019 at 1:36 am

    WOW! These look amazing! Marinating the chicken in buttermilk is a new concept for me, but it makes perfect sense. Bookmarking your site and printing recipe for making very soon. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      June 10, 2019 at 10:59 am

      Awesome! Enjoy 🙂

  • Reply
    Raia Todd
    June 9, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    5 stars
    Mmmmm… those chicken tenders look perfect! I’m totally drooling all over my keyboard. Haha.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      June 10, 2019 at 10:59 am

      Haha! Missions accomplished!

  • Reply
    June 9, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    5 stars
    Flavorful and delicious is how I would describe this recipe! Made these for a family party and everyone LOVED them, thanks!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      June 10, 2019 at 10:58 am

      That’s so great to hear! So happy they went down well 🙂

  • Reply
    June 9, 2019 at 10:20 pm

    5 stars
    Oh my, this looks so good! Can’t wait to make this for my kids. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      June 10, 2019 at 10:57 am

      Enjoy!! 🙂

  • Reply
    June 9, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    5 stars
    Love the clever idea of soaking the chicken strips in buttermilk. I am sure it comes out really succulent.

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      June 10, 2019 at 10:57 am

      Oh yes! So juicy and tender!